A few weeks ago I was on vacation and wrote a post about active and passive rest. Now that I’m getting back to lifting, it seems fitting to write about what the first workouts should look like after taking a break.
But first: why, and when should we take vacations from weightlifting?
When I first started lifting, I refused to take more than 2 consecutive days off from training. I would go on training for months or years without a break. I felt that I couldn’t afford to take a break if I wanted to accomplish my goals as a weightlifter. I thought that I would somehow lose all the effort I put in and the strength that I’ve gained if I let myself rest.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that if I didn’t take a break, I would actually stop improving.
When we train hard for a long period of time, our joints and muscles accumulate micro tears from training. Our internal organs become overworked because of the supplements we take, which affects our energy levels and mood. Mental stress accumulates and we become both physically and psychologically drained. When this happens, we eventually stop improving and are at-risk for getting injured.
Vacations are simply vital. We need to step away from what we do and allow ourselves to physically and psychologically recover. It’s true that we’ll be weaker when we get back from our break, but we’ll also be rested and ready to return to training to become even stronger than we were before.
Coaches typically plan for their athletes to take breaks 2 to 4 times per year, following competitions, for 1-2 weeks. The training process and competition are extremely physically and psychologically demanding. And the week after a competition is the furthest week from the following competition – making it the ideal time to get some rest.
When returning from a break, many lifters make the mistake of jumping right back into heavy training. This is a bad idea, since the risk of injury at this time is at its highest. We are weaker physically and our muscles and joints aren’t ready to jump back into heavy training. Even though we feel fresh and ready – we need to take some time to prepare our bodies to start training heavy again. Starting a new training cycle is like starting a training session: you can’t jump right into big weights – you need to warm up first.
After returning from a break, the first week of training shouldn’t include any fast movements. The workouts should consist of a high large variety of movements including squats, pulls, and presses, along with other typical bodybuilding exercises (more on that in the training to train phase). The goal isn’t to lift heavy – it’s to get all the muscles and joints back into working order. The weight should be around 40-65% of recent maxes, with relatively high volume: 5+ sets, 4+ reps. After a week or so of this, the muscles and joints will be ready to fully work again.
I came back from a vacation a week ago and couldn’t wait to get back to weightlifting. I felt like an addict looking to score some weightlifting. My first week back consisted of lots of squats, pulls, presses, curls and ab exercises. Finally yesterday, I did my first snatch workout. It feels good to be back – I’m fresh, nothing hurts, and I’m hungry to lift.